Postpartum Support and Care Lets You Enjoy Your Expanded Family Faster and More
Postpartum, that most magical and sometimes overwhelming time right after giving birth can be as pregnant with excitement as birth itself. Postpartum is celebrated, cherished and protected around the world. In China, India and the Philippines, new mothers are cooked for, cared for, and nourished by mothers, mothers-in-law and other family members.
In our “advanced” industrial society, this often does not happen. Extended family is frequently not around, so the new mother is left to fend for herself. In my practice, women often express feelings of trying to be the ideal or “super mom,” and do it all by themselves. In this impossible situation, the new mom will somehow manage to nurse and keep her house immaculate; do craft projects with older kids and keep to the schedule developed before the new addition. Some have worked until the birth and don’t realize changes like recovering from the birth and sleepless nights can drastically affect one’s activities. These prevailing attitudes leave postpartum women feeling like they should do more, more, more. Yet, this is a time when the most important priority is integrating the gift of new life into one’s growing family. It can be overwhelming to take care of yourself, the new baby and other children—and cook and clean too. So, how do we as women and mothers make a smooth transition from life before baby to the hectic euphoria of postpartum?
“For every day a woman doesn’t take care of herself in the first two weeks postpartum, she adds a month to her postpartum recovery.” My teacher, Raven Long, who was a midwife for twenty years and has since been an acupuncturist for almost twenty, would say this constantly. Just yesterday, I was working with a new mom who felt pretty good. She just couldn’t rest when her baby, just two weeks old, was sleeping. We talked about the importance of doing less and being more. She realized she was experiencing changes in her breasts, getting uncomfortable suddenly: her body’s way of letting her know she needed to give herself more attention and get more rest. There are some women who do bounce back quickly, but that is not a possible goal for everyone; we come to birth with our own historiesand our own needs, and come out of with with our own unique experiencs. This is a sacred time to be gentle with yourself and listen to your needs and those of your precious one.
When women bleed and give birth, they lose heat and essence/Jing/life energy. During the postpartum period, we need to focus on getting and maintaining warmth. In most parts of the world “Mother Roasting” fulfills this need by deeply warming the mother after birth. In the Philippines and India that may mean filling a pit with rocks, building a fire in the pit, and putting moss and other material over the fire. The mother then lays over the pit. In China and the U.S., acupuncture and moxibustion treatments (a Chinese medical technique to generate a deep, healing heat) are ideal, and hot water bottles will do if moxa is unavailable. Immediately or as soon as possible postpartum, moxibustion treatments (and acupuncture and herbal medicine, if appropriate) speed the involution (return to normal size) of the uterus and promote building your energy, your life force so you are available to you, your baby, your husband and other children if you have them.
Use the Green River Doula Network to line up support in advance for doula services, breastfeeding assistance, postpartum help or anything else you feel you might need.
Take a breastfeeding class before your baby is born. If you are the kind of person who likes a lot of information, also attend a La Leche League meeting. Ask for a nursing pillow as a gift, it helps support the baby and brings a newborn to the perfect height for nursing. Consider looking at the nursing stool, available online which helps your body be aligned and brings your knees up—making it easier to be in the best position to nurse. Remember: good habits and good positioning in the beginning will help both you and your baby be successful. Do ask for a great sling as a gift – try some out ask your friends, see what feels good on your body.
For friends who want to help, let them cook meals for you to be eaten right away or frozen until you need them. Remember that some babies do get colicky if you eat broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, kale, beans, or uncooked onions. Some babies don’t like soy and some don’t tolerate dairy (this is only temporary; as your baby grows, he or she will tolerate many different kinds of foods). Ask the friends who bring meals to plan only a short visit because you may need to rest.
If you notice an increase in lochia (afterbirth flow) after resuming more activity, slow down!! If you heed this first sign of doing too much, your body won’t have to give you another one—your bleeding will slow down again. Progressive signs can include fatigue, insomnia and mastitis. Mastitis is especially unpleasant. It’s uncomfortable, debilitating, and takes time to recover from. Some women describe it as feeling like a war is going on inside their bodies. This is avoidable! Make choices that support you to stay warm and healthy. Let helpers help. Whether it’s shopping, doing dishes or laundry, or reading a story to an older sibling, get the support you need right after birth. The now famous author and television personality, Penelope Leach learned this the hard way. After her first birth, her mother-in-law came to care for her. But what happened instead was her mother-in-law took care of the baby while Dr. Leach scrubbed the floor. She was left exhausted, ill, and unable to do what she really wanted to—take care of her new baby.
Food choices are integral to maintaining warmth. If your body were an ATM machine, for example, eating anything cold is an automatic withdrawal of energy. Your body has to use energy to digest the food. If you eat something warm, you are putting money in the bank – in your energy and healing bank. This is why soup is always served first in Chinese restaurants; if you eat something warm first you aid your digestion.
For the same reason, Chinese salads are marinated, marinating any food with vinegar warms its nature. Warm or room temperature food choices aids in postpartum recovery. Know how foods affect you and make choices that are healing for you.
Seemingly small things become very important postpartum. Make sure you are drinking enough water. Every time you nurse, drink an eight ounce glass of water. Ask your partner (or an older child) who wants to help to keep a full glass or pitcher always within reach when you are breastfeeding. These are general guidelines for postpartum care and recovery. Remember, a new mother has just finished her own personal marathon of labor, physically and psychologically, and will have her hands full recovering from birth, learning to breastfeed and meeting a tiny new person’s many needs. The rule is, take good care of yourself; it’s an investment in your future, your family’s future the happiness of your family and modeling self care for your children. When Mom is happy and healthy, everything flows easier.
Chinese Herbal Medicine and Acupuncture are invaluable for postpartum recovery and helping you gain back the vital energy you expend nursing, nurturing and caring for your loved ones. Investing in and caring for your new family will enable you to participate in the all-important task of baby gazing.
Amy E. Mager is a licensed acupuncturist and practitioner of Chinese Herbal Medicine who has been working with women, mothers and children, and men with chronic diseases for over 17 years. She was a Breastfeeding Peer Counselor for the Hampshire County WIC 11 yrs and through this program became a Certified Lacatation Counselor. Amy lives in the Pioneer Valley with her husband and main editor, Dan Garfield D.C., and their six precious children. If you’d like more information about using acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine in conception planning, challenges with fertility, pregnancy and postpartum care, call Amy at (413) 222-8616.